Toys. Home videos. Video games. Lots of cool things come in boxes–a connection 4Kids CEO Al Kahn is hoping kids will make every time they tune into Fox Box, the name of the company’s new Saturday morning program block that will debut this fall. 4Kids, which picked up the lease to Fox’s 8 a.m. to noon block in a four-year deal worth US$101.2 million earlier this year, has stocked the four-hour window with shows that Kahn says aim squarely at the heart of the ‘video game and toy group’–boys four to 14.
The 4Kids programming strategy is all about pedigree. ‘The shows we selected had to have one predicate, and that was success somewhere else,’ says Kahn. Indeed, all but one of Fox Box’s six half-hour shows has aired somewhere in the world or is based on an existing entertainment property.
Leading off the lineup will be Stargate Infinity, a spin-off of MGM’s sci-fi film and TV franchise Stargate. Produced by L.A.-based DIC Entertainment and MGM, the 2-D show tags along as time-traveling space vessel Starship Command tries to return the mysterious Draga to her home world. Designed to fulfill Fox Box’s FCC educon quota, Stargate Infinity will come with a plethora of scientific facts and lessons woven into its story lines. DIC will also produce study guides based on the program.
Sticking with the intergalactic action theme, Ultraman Tiga, a live-action show that has been airing in Japan for over 30 years, will follow in the 8:30 a.m. slot. Starring a protagonist who defends earth from alien invaders, 4Kids has commissioned 52 new eps of Ultraman from Tsuburaya Productions.
Up next at 9 a.m. is Kirby, a 2-D cartoon based on the video game series from Nintendo that centers around a friendly alien blessed with a special power for deflecting enemy attacks back at his foes. Having spawned 15 game titles already, Kirby, like Pokémon (also a Nintendo/4Kids co-production), comes to the table with a built-in audience.
Kinnikuman: Ultimate Muscle, another 2-D Japanese import from Toei Animation, follows at 9:30 a.m., bringing a plot that hinges on a buff-yet-cowardly wrestler who’s charged with defending earth from an alien invasion. Kahn is betting the show’s wrestling component will be a strong draw for kids, since Saturday mornings are currently free of wrestling-themed programming.
Though it has yet to decide what’s initially going in the 10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. slot, 4Kids will air different eps of Kinnikuman and Kirby from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., before closing out the block at 11:30 a.m. with Fighting Foodons. 4Kids acquired 26 half hours of the new Enoki Films series that Kahn says taps into the current food craze in toys. The show features kid chefs summoning monsters from the dishes they create and then engaging the creatures in battles.
The series with the best shot at becoming Fox Box’s flagship show won’t air until January or February. A co-pro between 4Kids and Mirage Entertainment, the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will air in the 10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. slot. Staying close to the spirit of creators Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman’s original comic book, the new Turtles sport a more muscular look and communicate without the schtick that characterized the original Murakami Wolf & Swenson toon.
Though he’s reluctant to talk about them at this point, Kahn says 4Kids has other programs waiting in the wings, which the company will plug in should any of the shows in the initial lineup fail to find an audience. The company is also on the hunt for programming beyond its 2002/2003 schedule and is open to both straight-up acquisitions and co-production deals.
In terms of licensing opportunities, 4Kids is managing programs for each of the properties except Stargate, which DIC will oversee. Though 4Kids has a gameplan and has been shopping its five properties to potential licensees, Kahn doesn’t expect product to reach retail until 2003.
To get kids excited, 4Kids initially plans to spend between US$4 million and US$5 million in marketing the Fox Box. Beginning next month, Fox Box promos will appear during Fox’s existing Saturday morning block, and later in the summer, the company will run teaser episodes of the shows. A prime-time special previewing the sked will also air closer to the block’s fall launch.
At retail, 4Kids will give away a million Fox Box packages containing episode videos and CDs, as well as various licensed merchandise.